May 28, 2023

3 Storylines: 76ers at Rockets, January 10, Simmons drama continues


AP Photo/Chris Szagola

Just a week after blowing out the Houston Rockets in Philadelphia, the 22-16 76ers are on the road Monday for another meeting with the 11-30 Rockets.

This matchup that was originally scheduled for January 24. The NBA rescheduled the postponed Sixers-New Orleans Pelicans game for January 25. 

Here’s three storylines for Monday night’s affair:

Wood and Porter Jr. return 

The Rockets suspended Christian Wood and Kevin Porter Jr. for their loss in Philly last week following incidents with the two players during a game in Denver. Both have returned to Houston’s lineup.

Houston will be playing the second game of a back-to-back after falling Sunday to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Karl-Anthony Towns led Minnesota with 40 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists.

Tyrese Maxey (health and safety protocols), Paul Reed (protocols), Shake Milton (back contusion), Jaden Springer (non-COVID illness), and Ben Simmons (personal reasons) remain out for the Sixers. Seth Curry was listed as questionable because of left ankle soreness. Isaiah Joe, who missed Friday’s win over San Antonio with back pain, wasn’t listed on the team’s injury report.

Embiid leading the way

Joel Embiid is no small-ball five, but his skill as a ball handler, shooter, and passer opens up options.

“Him handling the ball, it allows us to play the King Kong-Godzilla lineup with him and (Andre Drummond),” Danny Green said Sunday. “Drum, the way he can move, too, when those guys play together it can get pretty exciting when they start running the floor extremely well. With Joel handling, it allows us to have different lineups, small and big.”

Embiid’s improved handle and sharper decision-making lessen the risk of his fast-break journeys. And it’s especially useful for the Sixers without Maxey and Milton as they aim to play at a quicker pace. 

“We’re not a pure point guard team anyway,” Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said Sunday. “Obviously with Tyrese we become (that) a little bit more. But you look at Golden State with Draymond (Green), when he brings it up, it just creates indecision, especially in transition when (the defense) can’t match up half the time. 

“The other night Joel brought it up, and the two was guarding him and the five was coming. The two runs off to go guard his guy and Joel just keeps coming downhill. That’s the kind of stuff that happens, so it’s been good.”

Simmons drama cutting close to trade deadline

The NBA trade deadline is February 10 and Simmons is still a Sixer despite having played in zero games this season.

While not every game is (or should be) obvious on the right approach for president of basketball operations Daryl Morey, the Sixers are the team with the NBA’s most pursuing trade target. If they extend their six-game winning streak and stay hot, the league will notice. Team executives will surely be keeping their eyes on the performances of individual Sixers not named Simmons, too.

The Athletic’s Shams Charania on Monday named the the Atlanta Hawks, Sacramento Kings, Portland Trail Blazers, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Indiana Pacers as among the “suitors” for Simmons.

Embiid’s spectacular play increases the pressure on Morey to get things right. Whether or not that also aligns with urgency to make a pre-deadline trade is debatable. The opinion here is that Morey is correct to seek a “difference-maker” and that waiting it out past the deadline wouldn’t automatically be the wrong move. Until there’s a resolution, it’s a subject that will have intense attention. 

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